How Well Do You Move? Assessing Functional Movement

“Running is easy! Just put one foot in front of the other over and over again.” We’ve all heard it from our non-runner friends.

And they couldn’t be more wrong.

Running is a highly complex motion involving the entire body. If you lack the coordination, flexibility, and athleticism to run efficiently then you’re not going to perform at your potential. You’ll also predispose yourself to injury due to poor range of motion and functional movement necessary to have a strong running stride.

The video below is marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie running 4 minute mile pace on a treadmill. Look at how efficient and smooth his stride is compared with Joe Meathead you see at the gym. You could say that Haile moves well.

Moving well, as it relates to running, means the ability of your body to efficiently go through the range of motion necessary to run. It also requires flexibility, coordination of the left and right sides of your body (and the upper and lower body), and the proper firing of your leg muscles.

One of the ways that I’ve learned how to have better form is to watch the elites. Elite runners need to have fantastic running form and the correct range of motion to run as fast as they do. After all, it’s their job. The video above is an example of one of the world’s best runners moving gracefully.

You can watch foot strike, where the foot lands in relation to the torso, forward lean, arm carriage, and stride rate. There’s a lot of data points to analyze and compare with your own running form. I’ve been to several professional track meets only to be in awe at how smoothly elite runners go through their warm-ups, drills, and then the race.

The Functional Movement Screen

Watching fast runners is one thing, but I wanted to take it to the next level. I wanted a professional opinion of my personal functional movement profile. Not in just a running-specific manner, but for my entire body. I had numerous questions that I hoped would be answered by an evaluation of my body’s strengths and weaknesses.

I got in touch with the Maryland Sports Injury Center in Silver Spring, MD regarding a unique service they offer: a Functional Movement Screen. In their own words:

The Functional Movement Screen is a screening process that identifies injury risk by exposing dangerous movement patterns in people of all ages. These poor movement patterns are caused by muscle strength and flexibility limitations and asymmetries (right/left, front to back, and top to bottom imbalances). These imbalances in turn can cause compensatory changes in multiple areas of the body resulting in “energy leakage” and increase the potential for injury.

Rarely do runners do the prehab that is so helpful in preventing injury and maximizing performance. It’s a shame, since about half of runners get hurt ever single year according to most estimates. I consider prehab exercises to fall into two categories: strength exercises and flexibility exercises. Both help you move efficiently.

But doing strength and flexibility exercises isn’t enough when you’re training at a high level. The risk of developing poor movement patterns that can cause injury are still present because you may be doing these exercises incorrectly, reinforcing poor habits. Besides, if you sit at a desk all day then it’s almost a certainty you have some movement deficiencies.

Massage therapists, physiotherapists, and physical therapists can help you get your body “back to neutral” and evaluate your weaknesses. When you’re choosing who to see, it’s always a good idea to see a professional who has experience treating runners.

Evaluating my movement patterns and potential weaknesses was my goal when I started to research my options. Considering the amount of core, strength, and flexibility routines I do (my fiancee calls me a “core whore”), I had high hopes that I would have no major imbalances.

My research led me to discover the Functional Movement Screen, which is like a check-up that helps pinpoint your imbalances and where your body has trouble moving. The video below shows some of the exercises that I did while undergoing the FMS.

On Wednesday I’ll explain the exercises, my results, and what I’m going to do to fix my weaknesses. Until then, I’d like to hear your thoughts: what do you think are typical weaknesses in most runners? What movement pattern is often restricted or inefficient in runners?

Bonus points to whoever guesses my biggest inflexibility!

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